The Safety Audit initiative was established in response to recommendations from the 1999 Task Force on Community Safety report titled, Toronto. My City. A Safe City. The mandate of the initiative was to increase community-led safety audits, increase awareness of safety audits, provide consistent and timely responses to recommendations arising from safety audits and establish a co-ordinated approach to safety audits.
What Is a Safety Audit?
Safety audits are a tool that people can use to evaluate different features in their neighbourhood with the goal of reducing crime and improving everyone’s personal safety. A safety audit helps people look at a space that feels unsafe and determine why it feels that way: to look at where the site is, what is beside it, how it is designed and what happens there.
A safety audit is an inventory or checklist of the features in an area (or building, park, alley, car park, street) which you feel affect your safety. It allows you to take action to correct these features. Whether there is sufficient lighting, whether you would be heard if you called for help, whether there are people who can help, or improvements you’d like to see to enhance safety, are questions whose answers help determine the appropriate action to take.
The goal of a safety audit is to identify and, if possible, to improve an environment to make it safer and less threatening for its users. The result will be reduced opportunities for anti-social behavior, violence and crime in the area in which you live. A safety audit is a simple but powerful tool. The strength of a safety audit lies in each person’s direct experience, as the expert on his or her own neighbourhood. By sharing what you know and what you feel, and by working together with members of your community, you can make change happen.
Benefits to your community may include:
- getting to know your neighbours better
- reduced feelings of fear
- physical changes that make a place feel safer
- increased participation in community programs (after dark)
- reduced incidence of crime, and
- increased community pride
Safety audits are designed to inspire you to get involved, and to challenge you to work for change in parts of your neighbourhood where you or your neighbours feel unsafe or uncomfortable.
Safety audits are just one way to improve community safety. You may wish to contact your local police department or community safety organization to discuss various methods for improving safety in your neighbourhood.
By working together, we can help make Toronto a safer city for us all.
Step 1: Selecting the Audit Area
How large an area do you want to audit? Defining the area will better define the amount of work and planning that will be required to complete the audit. A safety audit of a small area may not require the same level of organization as auditing a whole community.
The area you choose to audit should be an area that community members have identified as being a safety concern or where they feel unsafe. Some ideas include:
- apartment or office buildings
- parking lots
- underground garages
- community/recreation centres
- public transportation sites
- walkways to and from bus stops
- a block of street-front shops
- outside and around bank machines
- several neighbourhood streets
- school yards
- streets with abandoned buildings
Broken windows are a safety hazard in more ways than one. The easiest way to decide on the size of the area you want to audit is to select the area(s) in your community that make you feel threatened or unsafe. The area selected will depend on how safe your community feels, the amount of time you plan to put into the process and the number of people who can help.
If you are concerned about a small area or just a couple of specific issues, you may want to review the City of Toronto Contact List on this website to report your concerns directly.
If you are planning a large safety audit in your community you may want to hold initial community meeting(s) to solicit volunteers and determine the areas of the community that will be targeted. This can be accomplished through group discussions, community association meetings or by contacting your local community groups to seek support. You may also wish to contact one of the community safety organizations listed on this website for help.
Here are some things to consider for a large audit:
- How many people or teams do you need to safely complete the audit?
- Do you have maps and other important area information?
- Can you create a map of the area?
- Can you arrange for safe transportation to and from the audit areas?
- Have you arranged for permission if your audit will include private property?
- How will you organize volunteers, train the team leaders, collect the completed checklists and put forth the recommendations?
- How will you present the findings?
A successful safety audit includes planning and resources that will cover all of the above issues.
Set up a meeting before a safety audit so that you can review who the participants will be, the goals of the safety audit, the area you’ll be auditing and the review process
Step 2: Audit Time Frame
The ideal time to allow for a “first audit” is approximately two to three hours. You will need about ½ – 1 hour to talk about the audit and decide on the location and size, 1-2 hours to complete the audit, and ½ – 1 hour to discuss the findings and plan to write up the recommendations. If the same group continues to work together, subsequent audits may not require as much time.
Time of Day
A poorly lit stairwell can be dangerous and inviting to criminals. You may wish to do outside audits after dark. It may be the only way to determine if there is a problem with lighting — one of the most important safety features. Nighttime is also the time of day when people are most isolated and feel least safe. Sometimes a place is more deserted and threatening early in the morning or in the middle of the afternoon when everyone else is at work. Only you will know which part of each 24 hours is of most concern to you. But please remember to fully consider and plan for all personal safety concerns during the audit. Go with a group and be very aware of your surroundings.
Time of Year
Seasons also affect how safe a place feels. For example, safety concerns are different when tree branches and bushes are bare in winter. Trees and plants in full bloom in summer potentially hide an attacker or block out light. Dry parking lots are different when they are full of puddles, covered in ice, or surrounded by snow banks which block the view. You may want to go back to the same place more than once to note differences at alternative times of day, week, season or year.
Step 3: Doing the Audit
The following is a list of the things you will need for the safety audit. The photographs highlight some of the key points to remember:
- Take a checklist and a clipboard.
- Take a flashlight along.
- Use a red or black pen or marker instead of a blue one, so that your notes will photocopy better.
- Take a camera or video camera on the audit if possible. If you’re going out at night, use a high-speed film (400 ASA or higher) or a good digital camera. High-speed films can be used to take pictures indoors. It is also a good idea to write down the number of each photo and note the location where it was taken.
- Take notes or use your camera to document positive features as well as problem areas. It can be very powerful to contrast both good and bad examples of the same factor –- for example, a well-lit street and a poorly lit street.
- It is important to talk to people you meet during the safety audit. Introduce yourself. Tell them that you are looking at safety in the area and would like to know what they think. You might ask how often and why they are there, whether they have had any bad experiences, and what changes they’d like to see.
- If it’s difficult for you to take notes, use a tape recorder and write up the findings later.
- Make arrangements for a place to meet before and after the Audit.
- Ensure each participant has safe transportation home from the Audit.
Audit participants should talk before the activity starts.
You may also wish to use a map of the area to help direct you through the neighbourhood and to be more specific in identifying the location of safety concerns. If you do not have a map, you may want to draw a map yourself. This map would be attached to the safety audit checklist and recommendations report.
Step 4: Using a Safety Audit Checklist
You’ve decided to do a safety audit because you feel unsafe in a part of the city and you want to do something about it. The idea, then, is to gather the information and concerns you have in a checklist and make recommendations for change. The questions you are trying to answer are:
“Why don’t I like this place?”
“When and why do I feel uncomfortable here?”
“What changes would make me feel safer?”
Closed-off areas with poor lighting are an invitation to trouble. There are a number of different types of safety audit checklists and they all offer valuable direction on how to identify safety concerns or issues. Please refer to the Resources (checklists) section of this website for more information and supportive links.
When completing a safety audit you should take the time to think about the questions on the checklist, as they enable the auditor to get a clearer picture of the area. Stopping to take a closer look at different factors also allows people to share feelings about a place. Sometimes one person will remember something and that story will trigger another memory in someone else. Each of these stories help determine why a place does or doesn’t feel safe.
Finally, if you are working with other people who do not understand the problems as well as you, the checklist can help you work together. For example, your building superintendent may rush past an area, but the checklist will remind you to take the time to look at the lighting there before you move on.
- What if you were walking along here late at night?
- What if you had to wait for someone to pick you up?
- Is this doorway a possible entrapment site?
- Does it feel safe in winter? In the rain?
- Are there fewer people around at different times of the day, week, or year?
The Safety Audit Checklist will help you break the whole safety audit area down into manageable parts. It will also help you cover and record most of the important safety concerns of the group. Remember that this checklist only contains suggested questions and not all issues may be appropriate to all locations. There may be additional issues you wish to include or add to the audit notes.
It is very important when completing a safety audit checklist TO PROVIDE VERY ACCURATE DETAILS AND VERY SPECIFIC LOCATION INFORMATION for each concern listed. For example, you should always provide a full municipal street address or very detailed information on the location of a problem within a park. This will assist those responsible for responding to safety audit recommendations, in finding and potentially correcting the problem. The idea is to take good notes and use a map where possible.
Step 5: Organizing the Findings
After you have completed a safety audit, you may have a lot of information about problem areas and changes you’d like to see. One method of organizing the information is grouping all the points under themes, such as:
- signage and maps
- issues of isolation and entrapment sites
- movement predictability
- nearby land use issues
- overall design features
- public transportation issues
- social concerns
- security issues, etc.
Another way of organizing the information from the checklist(s) is by type of space. For example, safety factors common to all parking lots or parks could be grouped together. When you have finished organizing the findings, ensure that no part of the area has been overlooked.
Sharing the Results
Whether they were part of the safety audit group or not, you may also want to seek the support, information, ideas, and feedback from people living or working in the area. Consider holding a small community meeting where those who did not participate can talk about their concerns and help with the recommendations.
This will give you more information concerning the problems, encourage ideas for improvement, and create support for the changes you want to see. This will also help you to identify the top priorities from the safety audit. It is recommended that each safety audit group attempt to highlight the top five area(s) or concern(s) that resulted from the audit.
Poor sight-lines. The first step is to look at the checklist(s) and determine the most important concerns. List these concerns in order of importance with the most urgent first.
The second step is to make recommendations aimed at alleviating the problems. For example, if the safety audit shows that buildings are hard to identify and find, the recommendation might be to put up signs.
Develop clear recommendations that are easy to implement. They should be prioritized in order of importance.
It is also very important for the audit team to consider and include those improvements that can be made by the community itself. It takes a collaborative approach to create a safe and clean community, so the support and involvement of community members is crucial to the successful transformation of any neighbourhood.
Working for Change
Once your safety audit is complete and you have made the necessary recommendations, you need to report them. Some recommendations can be implemented easily and relatively quickly, while others may take some time to effect. Some negotiations may be necessary, as there may be many requests for changes.
Some recommendations will require action be taken by other stakeholders for example, local businesses, schools, private landowners, or the Provincial government. The City of Toronto cannot ensure that other stakeholders will comply with the recommendations. You will need to send the relevant safety audit information directly to these groups and follow-up with each group individually.
Step 6: Sending in the Results
If you completed the audit with the support of a local safety agency or organization such as METRAC or Crime Prevention Association of Toronto (CPAT), please return your audit to that group for follow-up.
If you completed a safety audit and wish to forward your report to the City of Toronto, please send the information to:
Social Development, Finance & Administration
City of Toronto
Toronto City Hall
100 Queen Street West
14th floor East Tower
Toronto, ON M5H 2N2
Please preface any emails with the words ‘safety audits’ to help us sort your reply from the others.
The safety audit information will be shared with the appropriate City Departments, Agencies, Boards and Commissions to be considered within their existing protocols and administrative systems. A safety audit does not override existing protocols or administrative processes.
You can also visit the Frequently Identified Safety Audit Concerns section of this website for a helpful listing of City Department contact information.
Step 7: Other Safety Audit Ideas
There are a number of other safety audit ideas that you can adopt as part of your local safety audit. You may wish to consider the following:
Large Area Audits
If you want to do a safety audit of a large area of a city, you will need to do a lot of extra planning. Here are some things to think about:
- How many teams will you need?
- Do you have maps and any other important information?
- Can you arrange for safe transportation to and from the audit areas?
- What about childcare?
- How will you organize the volunteers, train the team leaders, collect the checklists, write a summary report and put forth recommendations?
- How will you present the findings?
You may want to contact a local community safety organization to assist you with the audit, such as the Toronto Police Service, Crime Prevention Association of Toronto (CPAT) or METRAC. See our Safety Audit Resources (Checklists) website section for more information on how to find support for a large audit in your community.
If there are many safety problems in your area (or you want to do a large area) and if you have a lot of energy, you could pursue others for a joint safety audit team. Here is a list of some of the people you may wish to contact to be partners in a joint audit:
- Neighbourhood businesses (shops, restaurants, gas stations, 24 hour stores)
- Business Improvement Associations
- Urban Development Services
- Residents’ Associations
- Local churches
- Neighbourhood Watch
- Toronto Police Service
- Crime Concern
- Neighbourhood Centres
- Elected Representatives
- Sexual Assault Centres
- School Representatives
Auditing the Transit System
You may also choose to perform an audit of the local public transportation system. Whenever you are doing a safety audit of a street area that includes a bus stop, or a subway station, be sure to look carefully at where people wait for a bus and how they get to and from the stops.
Here are some extra questions for auditing the transit system:
- How effective is the lighting inside the bus shelter or subway station?
- How far away is the nearest public phone? The nearest private phone (commercial or residential)?
- Is there visible information for passengers about what to do in an emergency?
- Are you aware of the TTC Designated Waiting Area and Stop Request Programs?
You may choose to contact the TTC directly to discuss your concerns or issues.
You may also contact the Corporate Security Department of the TTC at
Chief Security Officer
Toronto Transit Commission
Corporate Security Department
1900 Yonge Street
Toronto, ON M4S 1Z2
Auditing a School
The Toronto District School Board has developed the Safe Schools Audit as part of the Building a Safe School Plan. The Safe Schools Audit is a diagnostic tool to help determine areas that require improvements and areas that are working well with regard to a school’s safety and security measures. The audits are designed for internal school use only. The Safe Schools Committee is representative of students, staff, parents, and community members or a subset of the School Improvement Committee in a school and is responsible for conducting a Safe School Audit.
A red-brick school.
For more information about your local schools, please contact the Toronto District School Board at:
Toronto District School Board
5050 Yonge Street
Toronto, ON M2N 5N8
Who Can Do an Audit
Anyone can take part in safety audits. They are designed to empower residents who feel vulnerable. When organising the audit you should consider everyone who would be interested in participating or helping in your effort. Ideally, a group of concerned residents would come together to share the tasks, as well as their safety related concerns.
While it is not necessary to include all of the following groups, they may be able to contribute to the success of the safety audit.
Your audit team could be made up of:
- friends and neighbours
- tenants’ association
- community members/associations
- property owners/property managers
- local business owners or associations (B.I.A. representatives)
- women’s support services/groups
- social services
- health services
- church groups
- representatives from local schools or school trustees (including students)
- City Councillors
- community planners/developers
- local community policing unit(s) or other Toronto Police Service staff
- representatives from the local “Y” or recreation centre
- other local groups such as Crime Prevention Association of Toronto (CPAT) or METRAC
The places you want to audit are those where you feel unsafe. You may wish to audit an area at night. If you choose to audit at night, each team should consist of several people to ensure everyone’s safety. The best size for an audit team is at least five people or more to cover a large geographic area.
The Audit Team
The success of an audit depends on learning about the concerns and fears of the most vulnerable users of a space. The audit group should reflect the needs and opinions of people in the whole community. It should, if possible, include isolated seniors, those with disabilities, and other vulnerable people. If this is not possible, try to be aware during the audit of the unique points-of-view of other people who might be:
- using a wheelchair
- hard of hearing
- blind or visually-impaired
- mentally challenged
- very young
- shift workers
- travelling with young children
- carrying parcels
- members of a minority culture or group
- unable to read
- not familiar with English
Remember, when scheduling time for a safety audit, to consider potential childcare needs. This consideration will make it possible for more people to participate.